Shockoe Hill Cemetery

AR Shockoe HIll 3

4th and Hospital Streets

As the 18th century drew to a close, space grew scarce in St. John’s Churchyard, Richmond’s de facto resting place. Anticipating this demand, the City of Richmond invested in property in an underdeveloped area north of the Court End section of downtown, then a fashionable residential area. The site sat opposite Hospital Street from the existing Hebrew Cemetery, founded in 1816. The cemetery opened its gates in 1822 with the imaginative title New Burying Ground.

The New Burying Ground occupied 4 acres at the north western corner of the current graveyard. The largest and oldest grouping of trees on the site remain here. Over the next few decades, the Cemetery expanded further, reaching its current size of nearly 13 acres in 1870. Along the way, it was renamed Shockoe Hill Cemetery.

As St. John’s Churchyard was to 18th century Richmond, Shockoe Hill was to the 19th. As the years passed, the cemetery amassed an impressive portfolio of Virginia notables, including Richmond’s First Mayor William Foushee, Governor William H. Cabell, Union Spy Elizabeth Van Lew, and herculean Portuguese immigrant turned Revolutionary War hero Peter Francesco. The highlight of the Cemetery’s museum quality collection is Chief Justice John Marshall, the longest serving Chief Justice and the establisher of judicial review.

Thankfully, each of these graves remains preserved and open to the public. Many other fine gravestones and intricate cast iron elements has survived as well. All graves were placed within an orderly master plan, a slight augmentation of a three by three grid. This arrangement respects the surrounding street grid by aligning the west entrance and path with Federal Street and south entrance with N. 3rd Street. This strict adherence to the neighborhood grid, reinforced by a planar wall on the surrounding street edge, characterize Shockoe Hill as a product of the Federal era and a direct descendant of the Colonial churchyard at St. John’s.

Towards the end of the 19th century and into the 20th, the dominance of Shockoe Hill was supplanted by the massive new burial grounds along the river to the south west, beginning with Hollywood Cemetery. Hollywood, Riverview, Mt. Calvary, and others brought romantic, winding cemetery landscapes into vogue. The divestment from Shockoe HIll was greatly exacerbated by the construction of Interstate 95 to the south and east and the Gilpin Court housing project to the west, beginning in the 1950s.

Recently, maintenence at Shockoe Hill has been improving, though still more time and attention will be required if it is to be preserved indefinitely. In response to this challenge, the Friends of Shockoe Hill Cemetery formed in 2006 with the goal of increasing exposure of and maintenance for this historic landmark. There is even talk of opening some portions of the grounds for new burials. With nearly 2 centuries of history behind it, Shockoe Hill Cemetery continues to continues to play an intimate role in the life and death of Richmond.



Friends of Shockoe Hill Cemetery

McGothlin Medical Education Center

McGothlin MCV 1

Pei Cobb Freed and Partners
1201 East Marshall Street

The Medical College of Virginia has, over the past century, transformed Richmond’s Court End neighborhood. Originally a high class collection of antebellum town homes, each added building has increased the scale and intensity of the area which is now totally dominated by the hospital. MCV’s new James W. and Frances C. McGothlin Medical Education Center is no exception to this rule.

Replacing the 7 story A.D. Williams clinic, the little brother of the neighboring art deco West Hospital, the 12 story McGothlin Building pairs with the remaining tower beautifully. The contrast between the heavily textured brick of the old West Hospital and the glassy weightlessness of its new companion is lovely, a model for other projects in Richmond.

New York based architectural firm Pei Cobb Freed designed the McGothlin Medical Education Center which should surprise no one. The angularity of the project and the clean lines drawn from sidewalk to the top of the facade recall the firms past works, particularly those of renowned partner I. M. Pei. Traces of the National Gallery East Wing and the JFK Presidential Library are obvious in the building’s massing. The McGothlin building’s detailing is immaculate. It’s sober street presence is by no means vibrant, but its entrances are inviting. In a nod to the A.D. Williams Clinic’s architectural significance, its original entrances have been preserved and presented as sculpture in front of the McGothlin building’s Marshal Street facade.

Upon passing through the main entrance, one is met with a pleasing light washed two story lobby. The gentle creams and grays and subtle interior and exterior wall textures result in an ambience appropriate for a medical building, sterile yet comforting. Again, the legacy of the Williams Clinic is acknowledged by the preservation and display of a large WPA era mural in the lobby. The views from the upper floors are excellent, the massive planes of glass that make up the sheer curtain wall obstruct nothing.

Both a contributor to the neighborhood and to the vital functions of the city’s largest hospital, the McGothlin Medical Education Center is an outstanding addition to Court End and to Richmond on the whole.


White House of the Confederacy and Museum

White House of the Confederacy 6

Architects: Robert Mills, Petticord Associates
Date: 1818, Museum and renovation 1976
Address: 1201 East Clay Street

The Museum of the Confederacy’s main building, completed in 1976, was built to house the institution’s collection of confederate artifacts, the nation’s largest. The institution is the oldest museum in Richmond, founded in 1890, and includes on its grounds the White House of the Confederacy, the home of Jefferson Davis from 1861-1865.

The vast collections were originally kept in the house but in the 1970’s the museum shifted its collection to the new building and restored the White House to its original state. The museum sits on the same block as the historic structure, deep within Richmond’s Court End neighborhood. Together, the buildings and the garden space in between form an intimate and urban museum campus.

The White House of the Confederacy was designed in 1818 as the home of a wealthy Richmond bank executive. Robert Mills, architect of the Washington Monument, designed the building. The newer museum, the work of Petticord Associates, is a sharply modern structure that sits back from the street and takes a “L” shape, forming a square courtyard space between it and the historic center of confederate power.

The Museum of the Confederacy is a worthy piece of architecture in and of itself, but it is the interaction between it and the neighboring White House of the Confederacy, the way in which the modern structure responds to the historic mansion, that makes it one of the most intriguing and thoughtful works of architecture in Richmond. Robert Mills’ design for the home’s exterior is a massive, weighty, and stark piece of neoclassicism in the vein of famous English purist William Kent. The vast, unadorned planes of gray stucco, heavy double-column pairs on the rear porch, and sparse iron detailing give the house a sense of monumentality and simplicity nearing architectural brutalism.

This is picked up and elaborated on by the new museum building. Coffers, cantilevers, and bands of concrete suspended off of the main faces create shadow lines and ceiling details that mirror the massive porch of the historic structure. A nearly symmetrical face with three equally sized bays sits opposite the garden from the White House, foils the building and creates a secluded garden that seems a different world from the bustle of the high rise medical structures of the surrounding neighborhood.


Opinion: Museum of the Confederacy

The Museum of the Confederacy is an exemplary piece of modernism in Richmond, responding to its site and program gracefully. The museum was designed in close proximity to the White House of the Confederacy, one of Richmond’s most significant historic buildings. Given this and its function as a frame for civil war artifacts, context is paramount in the design. The museum succeeds in its efforts to respond to the older structure while expressing the time in which it was built.

The Museum of the Confederacy is built in a style known to some as ‘Brutalism.’ The expression, born of the French term ‘Béton brut’ which describes exposed and unfinished concrete, refers to buildings composed largely of concrete and glass with irregular and asymmetrical massing.  The style was prevalent during the poor planning era of the 1960s and 1970s and is, as such, often associated with buildings that are unresponsive to the site and to human scale. The Museum of the Confederacy is a shining example of a building in the brutalist style working with the site and the context in an intimate and sensitive way.

The material is the most obvious connection between the two buildings. The Museum of the Confederacy uses a light grey concrete which compliments the stark grey stucco of the White House. Mid afternoon light displays how rich and textured the concrete can be, appearing warmer and more irregular than the neighboring stucco. The plan of the building creates an intimate garden space that juxtaposes old and new beautifully. The face of the building directly opposite the White House mirrors its composition of symmetrical, regular bays while the massing of the building over all is an asymmetric ‘L’ which better suits the site.

The most dramatic gesture of the modern museum its largest cantilever, which covers the museum entrance and extends out towards the corner of the White House. This reach, this search for a connection between present and past, between modern, objective scholarship and the tumultuous emotions of America’s Civil War, is abstracted and frozen in time. The Museum of the Confederacy’s achievement is in its dual nature. It both fosters a tension between it and its historic progenitor and crafts mass, shadow, and material into harmony.


Monumental Church

Architect: Robert Mills
Date: 1812
Address: 1224 E Broad St

Holding a more prominent location on Broad Street in Court End but perhaps more forgotten than the adjacent Egyptian Building, Monumental Church was constructed thirty years prior to the MCV landmark and remains as an equally important structure.

The church was constructed in memoriam of the 72 people who died during the 1811 fire of the Richmond Theatre, including the governor of Virginia at the time. The fire was, at the time, the worst urban disaster in American history.

Chief Justice John Marshall commissioned the design of the monument and church, a process that caused some controversy between the neoclassical architect Benjamin Henry Latrobe and his employee, Robert Mills. The project was awarded to Mills, designer of the Washington Monument and the first American-born professional architect. The cause of his design in Richmond influenced his later interest in fireproofing measures.

Mills’s design is a condensed octagonal shape capped by a dome with a large, protruding portico. As the only architectural pupil of Thomas Jefferson, Mills’s design incorporates French influences, most notably the low Delorme dome. The building is one of the earliest and clearest examples of Greek revival in the country, with a strong focus on geometric proportion. The sparse neoclassicism holds a solemn, religious character despite its large scale surroundings.

While formerly an Episcopal Church and chapel for the Medical College of Virginia, the church is currently owned by the Historic Richmond Foundation and open only for tours and select private functions. The marble monument in the interior underwent an extensive process of renovation, chronicled in the documentary Saving Grace: Resurrecting American History. Yet the white stucco coat still symbolically serves as a grave for those whose ashes are stored in the crypt beneath the church and as a reminder of our city’s dedication to historical preservation, both tragedy and triumph.


Current: Medical College of Virginia’s New Children’s Pavilion

Ground has been broken on the new building for the Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU. The project, situated on a block bounded by Broad, Marshall, 10th and 11th Streets, is slated for completion in 2015 and comes with a price tag of $168 million. The intent of the development centers around addressing the fragmented nature of pediatric care in the region as well as accommodating parking needs downtown.

Not much in the way of architectural information has been made available, aside from a few intriguing renderings courtesy of the architectural mega-firm HKS Architects, who is responsible for countless American hotels, stadiums, offices and hospitals. Contemporary computer graphics have a tendency to sensationalize actuality in favor of a flashier image, giving this project a surreal quality, as of now. However, the undeniable modernism of the building will be a statement in Richmond’s architectural landscape in keeping with the most recent MCV addition a block east on Marshall. While the project will become clearer with time, the finished product will be nothing short of a major upgrade to the unimaginative neo-traditionalism envisioned for the building in 2005.

The two primary benefactors of the project are the children of Richmond and our downtown’s urban fabric and for both it is long overdue. The new pavilion will eradicate an embarrassing blemish of surface parking immediately adjacent to City Hall and expand MCV’s already dense downtown campus instead of sprawling out onto an ill-fitting parcel. While the building will consume an entire city block for hospital and parking uses (demolishing the existing Children’s Pavilion), it appears to have many elements of a street-friendly presence, including possible retailers and community spaces on the highly transparent ground floor.

The New Children’s Pavilion will without a doubt bolster the standing not only of the already prestigious MCV but of the city in general. As a citizen base, we frequently endure the ups and downs of VCU development in the area. Fortunately, it looks as if this will be a high point.